5 Golfing Hazards and How to Avoid Them
Before you tee off, make sure you know how to stay safe on the green
According to the United States Golf Association (USGA) Rules of Golf, a hazard is a bunker or area of water that serves as an obstacle on a golf course. According to the unofficial rules of golf safety, a hazard can be any number of things that can take an afternoon on the green off-course by causing illness, injury — or worse.
Golf is a relatively safe sport. By some estimates, though, as many as 40,000 people are admitted to the emergency room after being injured on a golf course each year. And according to a 2000 report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission about sports injuries among baby boomers (which are on the rise in general), golf was one of seven sports singled out as sending increasing numbers of people to the emergency room.
Even so, while you may be more likely to get a hole in one than to get hurt the next time you tee off, it's smart to take some basic precautions while golfing in order to keep your safety on par .
Golfing Hazard #1: Sunburn
On a hot sunny day, the sun's searing rays can be especially brutal on the unshaded expanse of a golf course. The Skin Cancer Foundation says that golfers can receive up 5.4 times the amount of exposure to UV rays to cause a sunburn for every hour they play. Beyond that, water and sand features of a golf course reflect rays back at golfers, so that it hits skin a second time.
What you wear on the course can make a difference in how well you're protected from the sun. Dark colors and very bright ones absorb rays, so go ahead and slip on that hot pink polo — even if you're a grown man: The majority of melanomas are diagnosed in white males over 50.
Choose tightly woven fabrics over filmy cotton or linen. Better yet, add some sun protective clothing to your golf garb — tops, bottoms and caps with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) of at least 30.
You'll also need to wear a hat with a visor to shade your eyes and face and sunglasses that filter both UVA and UVB rays.
At least 20 minutes before you tee off, apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to all exposed skin. Don’t forget areas that often get missed — ears, hands, backs of knees, hairline. Slather on lip balm with SPF as well. This is especially important for men over 50 who have fair skin: They're especially at risk of lip cancer, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Then tuck your sunscreen and lip balm into your golf bag to use later: According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “no sunscreen, regardless of strength, should be expected to stay effective longer than two hours without reapplication.” Since it takes about four hours to play 18 holes, you’ll need to reapply sunscreen at least once — more often if you sweat a lot.
Have a towel handy to wipe the sunscreen off the palms of your hands so you can keep a good grip on your clubs or wear golf gloves, which also will help prevent blisters. Take advantage of any shade trees you can stand under safely (away from airborne balls and swinging clubs) while waiting your turn.
Golfing Hazard #2: Dehydration
Golfing under the hot sun can leave you dehydrated, especially if you walk the entire 18 holes. To prevent dehydration while golfing, bring along plenty of water and swig it regularly. One way to get into the habit is to take a big gulp at the beginning of every hole.
Energy drinks can help replace electrolytes and salt, but save soft drinks and cocktails for after your game: Both can worsen dehydration.
Pay attention to how you’re feeling. If you experience any of these signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke, the Mayo Clinic recommends cutting your game short:
- Muscle cramps
- Rapid heartbeat
Related: 7 Signs You Need a Drink (of Water!)
Golfing Hazard #3: Golf cart injuries
They may be slow going, but golf carts can be dangerous. A study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that between 1990 and 2006, more than 147,000 people wound up in the emergency room with golf cart-related injuries. The most common cause: falling out of the cart.
To stay safe in a golf cart, the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation, offers these tips:
- Before you tee off, make sure the cart is in good repair and the tires are inflated properly.
- Don’t overload the cart with passengers or bags; everyone riding in a golf cart should be sitting in a seat and keep their hands and feet inside the cart.
- If you’re at the wheel, drive at the speed of a well-paced walk — and no faster than 15 miles per hour. Stay on designated paths.
- Be especially careful around water hazards and bunkers.
- Use the emergency brake when parked on a slope.
Golfing Hazard #4: Lightning
Because they’re made of metal, golf clubs are excellent conductors of electricity. Swinging a nine iron out in the open during a thunderstorm is asking for trouble: Five percent of lightning injuries and deaths from lightning happen on golf courses.
In fact, golf is the only sport that has official regulations related to lightning: The USGA Rules of Golf allow play to stop if there’s a threat of lightning. Even if you only have one hole to go, if you see lightning or hear thunder, head to a permanent building (not a golf course shelter, which is designed to only keep you dry in the rain) or get into a fully enclosed vehicle (a golf cart doesn’t count). Do not stand under a tree.
Golfing Hazard #5: Wayward balls and swinging clubs
A fast-moving golf ball can do a lot of damage — especially if it hits you in the head or face. When researchers at the Institute for Preventative Sports Medicine used a crash dummy to measure the potential impact of a flying golf ball on a person's head, they found that the force was “about a tenth of what would be expected in a head-on car crash.” That's not likely to kill someone, but it is enough to “cause a concussion, cerebral bleeding or, for a child or older person with osteoporosis, a skull fracture,” the lead researcher Dave Janda, PhD, told Golf Digest.
Eyes are especially vulnerable. Although it's rare to get hit square in the eye with a golf ball, it happens — with disastrous results. A 2014 British study looking at golf-ball related eye injuries found that of 22 people admitted to an emergency room after being hit in the eye by a golf ball, five wound up losing the eye.
Getting clocked by a club also can do a lot of damage. To avoid being hit by a club or a ball, stay well away from anyone doing practice swings (and make sure you don’t warm up near other golfers as well). Learn what to do when you hear someone yell, “Fore!” — a signal that a ball is headed your way: Crouch down and put your arms over your head.